Spaghetti Carbonara first captured my imagination at a sleepover in the mid 1990s (where I also first watched Notting Hill on VHS – a hugely influential night), and I’ve adored it ever since. I was blown away the luxuriant, creamy swirl of it in the bowl; the very grown-up grating of parmesan at the table, and the delicious smoky sweetness of the cubes of bacon, hiding throughout the pasta.
I demanded it for months afterwards, and made a point of ordering it whenever we went out for dinner; first in Little Caesars in Rathfarnham, and, later, in Big Cicero’s in Terenure; a lemon-sorbet filled lemon half in a cellophane bag for dessert afterwards.
I don’t really order it any more, but I often make it for myself for dinner if I’m eating alone. It’s comfort in a bowl; it’s super quick to make and no matter what you do to it, it always tastes pretty good. Occasionally, if it all comes together right, it can be truly wonderful.
I made it recently, and, since the cupboards were fairly bare, I sliced lots of fresh garlic from the garden into it, scapes and all, and it turned out beautifully – using the young garlic brought a green freshness to the dish that isn’t usually there, and its mild sweet taste meant I could build the garlicky flavour without adding any bitterness.
Oddly this is one dish that’s not best when made with fresh pasta – use the best dried spaghetti you can find. With spaghetti, I think you do get what you pay for, price-wise. Use any sort of bacon as long as it’s good, thick and smoked. Add lots of black pepper. Be generous with the cream, but don’t go overboard or it will be too heavy.
200g dried spaghetti
150g smoked bacon
Dash of single cream
3 egg yolks
4tbsp grated parmesan, plus more to serve
Salt and black pepper
Bring a large pan of salted water to a rapid boil and add the spaghetti, pressing it gently into the water as it softens. In a large frying pan, cook cubes of bacon or pancetta in olive oil until deeply golden. Take off the heat and set aside. Once the bacon has cooled, add the diced garlic – around one large clove, or two if you’re using fresh garlic. Break in the egg yolks and stir, along with most of the cream and salt and pepper. Drain the spaghetti, reserving about three tablespoons of its cooking liquid. Tip the spaghetti and the cooking liquid into the frying pan, adding a little cream, the grated parmesan, lots of black pepper and two tablespoons of the reserved cooking liquid. Cook for a minute or so, or until the desired consistency is reached, adding the final spoonful of the pasta cooking liquid only if required. Season to taste, and serve with a little more parmesan on top and some slices of fresh garlic or chopped parsley.
Using the garden as a pantry here reminded me of a suggestion I liked in the gardening section of the Irish Times a fortnight ago, and which can be summed up simply as ‘grow stuff that’s hard to find in shops’.
Basically, this means planning ahead in the spring so that you can harvest ‘gardener’s delicacies’ in the summer, including unusual varieties and by-products of ordinary crops, for example. So this could mean growing coriander for its wonderful green seeds in August rather than merely its leaves; growing courgettes for their delicate flowers rather than just their boring watery bulk; growing peas, both for their squeaky freshness straight out of the pod, and for their shoots, which are as trendy as they are delicious.
Growing your own mint means you can use great handfuls of it in your cooking rather than picking off delicate little leaves from plastic boxes, and finding space for marigolds and nasturtiums and purslane and peppery greens and herbs means you’ll have exciting salads all summer long. Similarly, blackcurrants, Alpine strawberries and lemon balm mean you can make great desserts in minutes. Have a think about what you’d most love to have your own personal supply of, and then grow that.